A Bold Idea: Generations in the Workplace Matter Less Than You Think

By Julie Rose | Employee Engagement

Dec 17

A Bold Idea: Generations in the Workplace Matter Less Than You Think

We read a lot about the fact that there are five generations in the workplace now – the most in history, as some people toward the end of their careers put off retirement and some of the young start earlier to avoid huge post-secondary debt. Inevitably, discussions about these generations tend to fall back on the many misconceptions about each. You’ve heard them, too: Millennials don’t want to put in face time at the office. Baby Boomers don’t want to embrace new technologies. The list goes on and on.

You could make an entire career out of studying even one of the generations working today, much less all of them, and understanding what drives them at work. But I’m going to save you a lot of trouble and suggest something provocative: The only way to know a group of employees – of any generation – is to talk directly with them.

Why? Because you simply can’t stereotype an employee’s motivations or behaviors based on their age, as people everywhere redefine in what stage of life they do things. Think about it – the very fact that we have five generations in the workplace is evidence of this: because traditionalists (those born before 1946) aren’t retiring when they used to. Mischaracterizing a busy 73-year-old professional juggling work, grand kids and hobbies as a traditional grandmother knitting in a rocking chair isn’t going to serve you very well.

In the same way, it doesn’t serve any of us to make assumptions about what other generations of employees want out of their workplace experience. Instead, we need to ask them. For example, one 40-year-old may have just reentered the workforce after taking time off to raise his kids. After several decades away from an office environment that has dramatically changed in his absence, he may identify much more like someone in Generation Z who is brand new to the workforce, rather than as a more professionally seasoned member of Generation X.  

Given this, LINX WorkForce Innovations believes we should spend less time focusing on the generations in our workplace, and much more time focusing on the employees in our workplace. By going deep with employees (which LINX’s sister company, SIVO, recently did with millennials), you’ll get past generational stereotypes and assumptions, to learn what really drives people. Only then can you understand how your workplace is – or isn’t – delivering on their needs and feel confident that you’re working to solve the right problems.

Is there a time you’ve felt mischaracterized at work based on your generation? I’d love to hear what you learned from that experience below.

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About the Author

Julie is an executive with a proven track record for brand building and team building. She is skilled at leveraging disparate resources to unlock new insights and create human-centric strategies. She has held several client service roles in her career and is adept at working collaboratively to set clear goals and deliver on expectations.

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